fast food pick up

Help! I’m Too Tired to Cook

Some time ago, I got a letter that took my mind back to the years when our boys were small, and I was too busy, too tired, and too stressed to cook. From her opening words, I could so identify with Carly and the situation she finds herself. 

fast food pick up



Dear Mary: I know where the money is leaking out of our household: Fast food. We are expecting our fourth child, and I am so bushed at the end of the day, we get take-out two or three times a week. What can I do? It gets to be dinnertime, and out comes the app and the car keys. It’s all I can do to just get through the day. Carly


Dear Carly: The last thing you need is someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead. So I won’t. Instead, I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in your situation (two boys, 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.

Five-menu rotation

Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. Example: Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans, and so on. 

Ask your husband to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title.

That leaves one Friday Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza.

Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now, everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too.

As the children get older and you get more courageous you can expand your repertoire and get the kids involved in the kitchen, too. But for now, stick to the five-menu rotation.

Set the table

I know you’ll think this is nutty, but it works. If you have the space, set the dinner table for the next day before you go to bed at night. Waking up to a nicely set table sends a silent message that dinner is so important, we eat around a table—not in front of the TV. And it will help you to start thinking about dinner long before you run out of steam.

Hint: Even a five-year-old can learn to set the table, so delegate.

Shine the sink

I learned this from Marla Cilley, author of Sink Reflections. Before you go to bed, clear out the sink of everything (either wash the dishes or load them in the dishwasher), scrub, rinse well, and then shine it with a towel. Five minutes to a new attitude.

There really is something magical about waking up in the morning to an empty, clean, and shining sink, no matter what condition the rest of the house is in.

World’s most important profession

Surely there’s no more important or difficult job in the entire world than being a mom to four young children. And nothing more rewarding. Make dinnertime an anchor in your day now while your kids are young. The tradition will come back to bless you as your children get older.

Even though they may never tell you, dinnertime together will become something your family knows they can count on in an otherwise uncertain world. So enjoy these precious days and take it from me: It gets easier.


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  1. Jenn says:

    There are so many resources for solo cooking! Just google “cooking for one” and you’ll find tons of them. Here are a couple:

    When I was in college someone gave me a cookbook called “Cooking for One or Two”. It was a great way to learn lots of small recipes. I like leftovers for lunch but cannot stand eating something for days on end. The key is to learn how to use your leftovers in new ways in order to avoid boredome and waste. Grilled chicken goes into a salad. Leftover veggies get added to broth & become soup – pureed is awesome!

    Good luck!

  2. Anara says:

    When son was a baby, he went through a phase every afternoon that I called the Witching Hour – a meltdowny, clingy phase that had nothing to do with naps or nutrition. I started prepping and sometimes cooking dinner in the morning so I wasn’t so overwhelmed in the afternoons. I’d wash and prep as many veggies as I could, cook or debone a chicken, make any sauces or spreads, sear meat on the grill to finish in the oven later, etc. Eight years later, I am still doing morning dinner prep because I have more energy at that time and because it frees me up for home work help. It also lets me plan what he can help with.
    I also double prep – some entrees, like lasagna, burgers, meat loaf, pancakes, French toast, and enchiladas are perfect for this! I brown twice as much hamburger or sausage that I need, seasoned with salt and pepper, onion, and garlic. Half goes into the freezer, the other half into that night’s meal (with any extra seasonings the dish calls for). Make sure your ground meat is cool, pat off excess grease, and put a paper towel in a freezer bag to absorb any more grease as it freezes. Cooking ahead helps take the sting out of clean up!
    For the single person, I would recommend fixing your proteins/entrees ahead of time and freezing a few small batches because those take the most time. Plan around your proteins. E.g. a half batch of spaghetti one night (you can freeze the unused sauce and dry pasta) then use the rest of the pound of meat to make a couple burgers or chili another night. Look online for meal plans around a whole rotis chicken for an example of this type of planning. You can home “flash freeze” fruits for smoothies and chopped veggies for cooking. Pick some favorite meals or foods and research how to freeze the most common ingredients that you will be using. You can also team up with one or more like minded friends, split the grocery costs and make ahead some meals together, and package them up in one or two meal portions. One or two entrees a week will make a big difference in how well you eat and how much you save on food.

  3. Claudia S says:

    Dear Mary – My first time writing you but a post today – What do you need to be Happy? asked for readers thoughts. My husband & I are 68 so I’m sure we might think different on what would made us happy than the younger group, but our happiness would be good health. We are fortunate to have the money that we can live with & no mortgage or car payments.
    I enjoy reading your column and we also had our struggles with money when we were in our 20’s & 30’s and couldn’t pay our bills. Our first grocery shopping trip together we still laugh about 48 years later. My husband was in the army in OK. and after we walked to the grocery store and spent our grocery money we ended up with mostly “junk” food. When we got back home (and very hungry) we found out we couldn’t make a meal. I think my husband ate on base until we had money again for real food – I can’t remember what I ate. Claudia S. from Minnesota

  4. skye says:

    Default quick dinner in our house is breakfast. I usualy have a smidgen of leftover veggies in the fridge, a little grated cheese, alkthat gets mixed into scrambled eggs. Slice and qick fry a couple potatoes, toss bread in toaster. Done. Every time i make a batch of soup, stew, chili, beans and rice, dal, etc, i make a double batch and freeze half. There is always something in the freezer. If all else fails, pita bread pizza is a quick standby.

  5. Chelle says:

    I use the slow cooker and plan ahead sometimes. Sometimes I get busy and forget to plan. I also cook enough to have leftovers and we do eat them. has some great easy recipes that might help. Enlist kids help if they are old enough and definitely try to get your husband involved. Make it a family job. It will teach them skills for later. Kids grow up fast. Enjoy every day. Believe me, I am now at that point.

  6. Alaskan girl says:

    I’ve heard of baby showers where everyone brings a main dish in a disposable container. The Mom-to-be goes home with many meals in her freezer. (Tell one of your friends that you’d like this and they can run with it.)

  7. CaKate says:

    I do enjoy your ‘column’ – However, I’d like to add that Rachel Ray (Food has a show “week in a day” where you cook 5 meals in one day. The recipes are easy, inexpensive and freezable. All is also a source for cook ahead meals. What about the crockpot? Another tool to cook ahead. Also, maybe she could involve her family in the process of meal planning and/or cooking the meal in advance. I do understand that if at the end of the day the woman of the house is exhausted, she isn’t physically up to cooking, but what of the other members of the household. (pardon) Are they without arms? Put them to work, a house hold is a TEAM effort. (pardon my rant) but I just get so mad when I hear of a woman who is expected to do the impossible. IE: work for a living and then keep the house, cook the meals, do the washing, etc. I’m blessed, my husband helps with the cooking and the cleaning, and I tell him how grateful and blessed I am everyday.

  8. Akuarose says:

    I had to laugh at the suggestion to set the table for the next day’s dinner! We eat at our table 3 times a day, and use it for other things in between meals. The kitchen table is a busy place in our house. We have been blessed with 3 young ones, and I find it helps to get them involved in meals where possible. They can pull apart lettuce for salads. I have let them cut up peppers with a scissors rather than a knife. By letting them help, it does multiple things. It gives you some help, yes,only a little at first, but it grows as they do; it gives precious time together. They learn about foods. And more. We try to eat simply, which helps a lot. I have a big electric roaster. One Saturday I made a BIG batch of cheesburger soup, and once it cooled some I put it in gallon ziplock freezer bags and into the freezer. So easy to pull a bag out in the morning and just heat it up in the evening. Another favorite is when we make black beans and rice. First meal we have rice and beans with a salad. I always cook too much, on purpose. After dinner, when the food is cooled down, I mix the leftover rice and beans together, sometimes adding some salsa, and spread the table with tortillas. I put the R&B mixture on, the children sprinkle shredded cheese on, and then I wrap them like burritos. I make enough of these that we can have a pan full a day or so later, and another pan for the freezer. So by cooking a pot of rice and one of beans, we easily get 3 meals out of it.
    There are also multiple easy recipes on pinterest if you simply type in freezer meals.

  9. ConnieBC says:

    Using the slow cooker helps but I find the thing that really helps when I don’t feel like cooking is having extras in the freezer to heat up in the microwave. I try to double a recipe when I can and freeze the extras. Things like chili, spagetti, soup or even roast beef/chicken and mashed potatoes. Frozen into individual serving sizes then everyone can pick what they want. It’s our fast food night.

  10. eveh says:

    I find if I have a category for each day it helps.

    Sunday……crockpot, this is always easy recipes like roast plus jar of peppercinni peppers, juice and all. 2 ingred but so good. Good bread, salad
    Monday…..Soup in Winter, Cold plate in Summer with chicken, tuna, ham not just green, cheese, olives + fruit……that sort of thing. We like melon in summer
    Tuesday….wrap or taco day…….I cook up SAMs frozen thighs or breast ahead of time and keep in fridge to use for this and use leftovers next day for rice.
    Wednesday…chicken and rice….I use boneless, skinnless from SAMs club
    Thursday….pasta day….we actually like ramen noodles or egg noodles, spag, etc Add meat if you like it. I eat mine with tons of butter and some kind of cheese.
    Friday….Fish day…frozen, breaded quickie like filets, fish sticks, grotons or mrs Paul’s. We like French fries with this, especially sweet pot fries, again frozen from SAMs.
    Saturday we eat out or have homemade hamburgers or sandwiches from Deli meat not mass package stuff.
    You are not set on what you put in each dish but just knowing I’m having Fish today reminds

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